This is a two part short story. It has an awkward break, mostly because it wasn't designed to be broken in half. Anyway, try to enjoy...
As is common in most rural communities, the long row of mail boxes along the side of the road served as the social meeting house. Margie and Blanche spent at least an hour a day sitting in their cars under the shade of an enormous mesquite tree while sorting their own mail and gossiping about their local friends. Today, Margie was running late, as she was caught by the train as she was driving to town to buy milk…
A faded blue pickup pulled beside a suburban with a long dent running the length of the driver’s side door. Blanche had been sitting under the shade of the mesquite tree for almost twenty minutes and was about to decide that Margie was at home sick. Relived, she waved eagerly when the familiar old blue pickup pulled next to the mailboxes lining the dusty caliche road. Within minutes the two were engaged in the most dependable exchange on God’s green Earth.
“Why Margie, I was about to come looking for you.” Blanche declared as she thumbed through the latest version of lingerie catalogues to hit the streets.
Margie’s face flashed red for a moment as she relived the horror of the last few minutes. “Oh, that darn train. Just as I was leaving Shelter’s Feed Store, I saw Millicent with that new baby and just had to stop and see if it was true…” Her voice trailed off while baiting Blanche’s predictable response.
“My goodness! You actually saw her in town with that… That baby?” The fury on her face was evident as she scowled her disapproval of Millicent’s obvious disregard for small down etiquette. “Why, she has no business bringing that disgrace into the public like that. Doesn’t she have any respect for the rest of us that must live here?”
“Oh don’t I know. Can you imagine how her mother must feel?”
“She must be hiding at home in her closet, that pour soul. We should get the women’s Bible study to come by some day and visit with her and encourage her to move on with her life. The shame…” She pretended to feign disapproval of a see through nightgown. “Well, go on. Don’t leave me hanging. Tell me about that baby.”
Margie wet her lips with excitement. She wasn’t given the opportunity to be the bearer of news often. “Well, it’s a boy. And she named it after his father.”
Blanche hurled venom across the steering wheel of her suburban. “She named that baby Jamal? That’s a black name…” She was furious. “I knew that she was going to do that. She is such a slut.”
“Oh, don’t I know.”
“Well, don’t keep me in suspense, what did the baby look like?” Blanche leaned forward, fully appreciating the next morsel in her feast of hatred.
“You could tell by looking at it. That baby was half black. Just as plain as the nose on my face.” She paused while Blanche physically revolted. “And will you believe that she has no shame? She was walking down the street as if nothing was wrong.”
“That tramp! She was always like that. Millicent’s poor mother, we really must go by and pray with that poor woman.”
“Oh, didn’t I mention that? Silly me, I plumb forgot.” Margie relished the excited look on Blanche’s face. Blanche thought that the worst was out, now she realized that another serving of scandal awaited her. Margie continued, “You see, May was with her…” She let her voice trail off for effect.
Her eyes bulged from her head, “You mean to tell me that May had the courage to walk down the street with Millicent? My, my, my, my, my.” When Blanche had recovered from her favorite heart attack, she took another bite. “Well, how was she holding up?”
“As fair as expected. She pretended to be proud of that little demon. She wasn’t even trying to hide the shame of her daughter’s evil rebellion.” Margie thumbed through the same catalogue as Blanche. “We really must come by and share our love and concern for May. She needs us now more than anything.”
“Oh my, Jeez Louise!” Margie appeared to be a deer caught in the headlights as she hurriedly shuffled her mail around in her hand.
“What? What’s the matter?” Blanche craned her neck around just in time to see May’s Dodge pull up to the mailboxes. “Great! Now we have to get out and go see that baby.” Her distress was obvious. Nevertheless, her hand sought for the handle and her door popped open. Together they waddled over to May’s pickup.
May looked up when Millicent pointed at the accusation committee bearing down on their position. She smiled and waved eagerly, but sighed on the inside as she rolled down her window. “Hello! We must stop meeting like this.”
“May, it’s always so nice to see you. How is Bill?”
“He’s fine. Just fine.”
“How is Little Bill?”
“He’s fine, just fine. How is your husband, Blanche? I saw Jerry at the feed store. He seemed to be doing better.”
“Him? He’ll be that last person to die. He gets better everyday, thank God.” Blanche peered into the window. “I hear we have a baby onboard…”
May’s face softened, “You haven’t seen Jamal yet? Let me get him out.” She lifted the baby from his car seat and set him in her lap. The baby stretched and groaned in complaint, then yawned and stretched again.
“Oh what a precious little man.”
“I wasn’t lying when I told you what a handsome baby he is, Blanche.” Margie piped in.
“He’s just precious. He’s a beautiful baby, Millicent. We are all proud for you.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Hudson.”
“Please, call me Blanche. We have been friends for years.” Millicent only nodded. “So, how is your husband?”
“Jamal is well. He is settled into the pastorate at the new church. Things are going better than expected.” She paused a moment. “We would love for you to visit our new church. A woman with your singing ability is more than welcome anytime.”
Blanche feigned humility, “I do that best I can with what little God has given me. I always knew to expect great things from your husband, Millicent. After all, a war hero from the Gulf is expected to do great things in life.”
Millicent smiled warmly, “Thank you.”
“We were all so proud when President Bush awarded Jamal with the Medal of Honor. It was as if he was giving it to us all.”
“In a way he was.”
“So, how long has Jamal been back from the war?”
“It’s been a year since he was discharged.”
“I can’t believe that you have been married now for a year.”
“It will be a year next month.”
“That’s right; you had to wait until Jamal was recovered from his wounds. I assume that he is okay.”
“As good as new.”
“And the baby was born on Wednesday? I can’t believe that you are already out of bed and moving around. You are doing so well.”
“It has been 10 days now. He was born last week. This is the first trip we made to town since I came home.” Millicent returned the baby to his throne, “Well, I am tired, we should be going.”
Blanche smiled warmly, “We are praying for you and that baby. I hope that everything goes well with that new church. May, stay in touch.”
May graciously shook Blanche’s outstretched hand. “It was a pleasure to see you again, Blanche. Come by any time. Margie, don’t be a stranger.” The Dodge pulled onto the caliche road and slowly disappeared in the distance.
Blanche turned to Margie. “Can you believe that May? She is being so brave. You can’t even see the shame on her face.”
“Did that baby look half black, or what?”
“Oh, Margie. We really need to pray for them all.”
“Can you believe that my husband wants to visit their new church?”
Blanche put her hands on her wide hips, “What has gotten into Justin?”
Margie rolled her eyes, “Who knows? A war hero rolls into town and then everyone thinks that something special has happened.”
As they were talking, a large furniture truck, with PERRY’S written in large black letters on the side, slowed down on the highway. A red faced driver stuck his head out the window, “Excuse me, where can I find the Johnson’s?”
“What did the Johnson’s buy?”
“Ma’am, if you please? I’m already late.”
Blanche glared at him, “You can see it from here; it’s that white house.”
“The one with the big pine tree?”
“Yes, that’s the one. In fact, that is Mrs. Johnson in that white Dodge just in front of you.”
“Thank you, Ma’am. Much obliged.” The truck roared off.
“Can you believe it?”
“No I can’t.”
“That Millicent sat there so uppity. Now they are getting new furniture.”
“I wish that my husband was a black war hero turned pastor.”
They fumed as the truck backed into the driveway of the Johnson’s home. “Come on, Margie; let’s leave the Johnson’s to their gloating. We have better things to do.” But Margie wasn’t moving. “Margie, are you listening to me?”
She slowly shook her head. “My goodness, I should have put the pieces together, but I completely missed it.”
More on Monday!